Remembering Henry Darger

Written by Lee Harvey

1892 – 1973

In contrast to our profile on highly successful author Michael Crichton where we wrote “Even if you don’t know who Michael Crichton is (or was), chances are you know his work”, even if you do know who Henry Darger is (or was), chances are you don’t know his work. Few people do. And it’s entirely possible that Darger never intended on anyone being aware of it.

But we’ll get to his work in a moment. First:

Darger was born in Chicago. His mother died when he four years old and his crippled father was taken to a mission home when Drager was eight. A Catholic boys home took Drager in and indoctrinated him into what would become a lifetime obsession with the faith. But Drager only stayed at the home for five years before being admitted to the ‘Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children’ for reasons unknown but ones some scholars claim were as innocent as masturbating. The asylum was strict was forced Drager into slave-like labour. He escaped three years later and returned to Chicago where he found a janitorial job at the Catholic hospital Drager would spend the rest of his life working at.

Drager was a loner, collected trash and dressed like a bum. He had only one close friend who he used to talk about founding a service for abused children with. Whether this spawned from his time in the asylum or his time in the Catholic school is unknown but Drager did assert that his father was loving and caring.

There’s not much more to Drager’s life than the above. He worked, hoarded rubbish, went to mass and wrote in solitude. A lot. It wasn’t until Drager’s landlords entered his apartment after his death that someone else experienced his creations, finding Drager’s one-room apartment filled with home made books and paintings (and trash).

The book he is most known for is called ‘The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion’ comes in at over 15,000 (single spaced and illustrated) pages and is largely inspired by a murdered girl in the Chicago area.

He hand-wrote a 10,000 page follow up called ‘Crazy House: Further Adventures in Chicago’ that ends mid scene and the 5,000 page ‘The History of My Life’ that starts off as a autobiography but quickly turns into a fiction piece about a twister called ‘Sweetie Pie’.

But it is perhaps his artwork that Drager is most renowned for. Museums the world over display his pieces which sells for up to $750,000


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A very strange artists. There’s an excellent documentary about him on YouTube, or there used to be anyway. Drager was a kind of urban hermit. He kept to himself and spent all his days creating but didn’t share his creations with anybody. After his death, somebody collected them to keep them from being thrown in the trash which is the only reason we know about them today. He did highly creative collage pieces and wasn’t a bad writer but his writings lack focus and tend to ramble. He had mental problems, no doubt about that, but then, some of the… Read more »
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